Northern Arizona University is planning to increase its on-campus housing.
On Thursday, the Arizona Board of Regents approved NAU’s fiscal 2016 Capital Development Plan. It contained only one new project: the construction of an apartment-style residence hall by American Campus Communities.
Under the plan, NAU will allow American Campus Communities to lease a parcel of land located near the Bilby Research Center and and Gabaldon Hall on the south side of Runke Drive between South Knoles Drive and South San Francisco Street. American Campus Communities will use that parcel, which currently contains open space and two parking lots, to construct six apartment-style buildings and a four-story parking structure.
The project is being called the Runke Drive Student Apartments. According to the proposal submitted to ABOR, the project will add 620 beds on campus for upperclassmen, many of whom have been forced off campus by NAU’s multi-year boom in freshmen enrollment. There were a record 4,960 freshmen in fall 2014 alone, and all are guaranteed campus housing if they want it.
The campus currently contains enough university-owned housing for 7,114 students. Most — around 4,700 beds — is reserved for freshmen.
“The growth of our enrollment now justifies the construction of another on-campus residence hall,” NAU President Rita Cheng said. “We have successfully partnered with American Campus Communities in the past, and it makes good business sense to do so again.”
The Runke Drive project will be American Campus Communities’ fourth on the NAU campus. In August 2012, the company opened the first two privatized residence halls on campus: The Suites Phase I on East McConnell Drive and Hilltop Homes on South San Francisco Street. It added The Suites Phase II on East McConnell Drive in August 2014.
In a press release, NAU officials characterized the Runke Drive Student Apartments as “an expansion of the Hilltop Townhomes,” although the two housing complexes will not be adjacent.
Once the project is complete, American Campus Communities will have added a total of 2,074 beds to the Flagstaff campus out of a total 9,274 beds. The Mountain Campus enrolled nearly 20,000 students in the 2014-15 academic year.
Some neighborhood groups close to campus have criticized NAU for not providing more on-campus housing, saying students displace families, clog streets and drive up rents. Two boarding house-style complexes aimed at renting to students by the bed have been proposed by private developers for Mike's Pike and for West Route 66 at Blackbird Roost, with an estimated 1,300 total beds.
Construction of the new campus residence hall will not cost NAU any money. Instead, the proposed lease agreement calls for American Campus Communities to cover the entire $55 million in projected construction costs, with 25 percent equity and 75 percent debt funding. American Campus Communities will also be responsible for maintaining and overseeing the facility. Students will pay rent to the company, which will, in turn, pay rent to NAU.
The university has said it will make no occupancy guarantees, though the existing American Campus Communities residence halls on campus have maintained a 99 percent occupancy level since they opened.
According to the NAU press release, the university and American Campus Communities are working with the Flagstaff Dark Skies Coalition to ensure the new buildings will not interfere with visibility at the Atmospheric Research Observatory on NAU’s central campus.
In addition to 620 beds, the Runke Drive project will have a landscaped courtyard, a lobby area, a social room, a game room, a computer lab, a mail area and a fitness center, plus enough parking for 706 vehicles.
The project still needs to get a favorable review by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Capital Review on June 18 before NAU and American Campus Communities will sign the lease. If that happens, construction is expected to begin in January 2016 and be completed by August 2017.
The Runke Drive Student Apartments is the only major construction project expected to break ground on the NAU campus during the 2015-16 academic year. In April, Cheng announced construction on a new Engineering Lab Building on south campus would be postponed due to state funding cuts.
However, there are a number of other projects that are ongoing. The new Science and Health Building on north campus and the International Students Pavilion on central campus are both expected to open before students return to campus in the fall. And construction will continue on NAU’s new Student and Academic Services Building and the North Campus Athletics and Recreation Center.